(To read the previous chapter of Stories, click here)
/* The following is an unfinished prototype model. Expect more features in the official release*/
“Yeah…” She says. “I do.”
She starts crying. Not the way I do, with loud sobs and soft wimpers and snot running down my nose and tears, just, everywhere. Not the way a normal person does, with a reasonable amount of crying (as in, producing tears) and the regular amount of crying (as in, making the crying sound). Not even a single dramatic tear, like in the stories. There’s not a person on Earth who cries the same way she does. Not because she isn’t a person, but because she is a person unlike any other.
And it’s all my fault she’s crying because I asked her such a stupid question and since I love her so much and I’m such a big baby seeing her cry makes me so sad that I start crying and then she says-
She pats my head, like she always does.
“You don’t have to cry for me. But it’s OK if you do.”
“B-but it’s my fault,” I blubber.
“What’s your fault?” She asks, patiently wiping away my tears. I almost wish she cried the way I did, so I could do the same for her.
“I can see how much it hurts you to remember him. And I reminded you.”
“I don’t need you to remind me of him.” I know that she doesn’t mean to sound as rude as she does. I know she just means that she will always remember him, even if I never bring him up. But I feel something else entirely. I feel the words “I don’t need you,” stripped of any context, crashing into my heart.
“I’m sorry,” she says, immediately sensing my distress, “That’s not what I meant to say. I do need you. It’s just…” I can’t help but wonder if she really does need me. How could she? She’s kind, and wise, and strong, and really, seriously hot. And I’m just… Me. I almost want to ask her why she needs me, but it’s too embarrassing. And, also, she kind of seems to be at a loss for words, which doesn’t happen often and I don’t want to make it worse.
“It’s OK,” I say, trying to sound as calm and cool as she does, “I know what you meant. You’ll always remember him, no matter what, and you can’t remind someone of what they already remember. Right?”
“Yeah,” she said, regaining her composure, “That’s it exactly. I remember him every single day, and it hurts every single day. But it’s not your fault. You have nothing to feel sad for.”
“Of course I do!” I say, “I care about you, Minerva. It makes me sad to see you hurting!”
She smiles warmly. I can’t help but return a big, goofy smule of my own. “I appreciate your concern. But I care about you too, and it hurts me to see you sad.”
“But I can’t stop being sad if you keep hurting, and you can’t stop hurting if I keep being sad. That sucks!”
“That’s love,” she says. “It sucks. But…” I can physically feel my smile relax into a frown as I realize what she’s about to say. “But it’s the good kind of suck.”
I don’t know how she does it. It should be impossible. In fact it is, but she does it anyway. She is the most beautiful, wonderful, incredible, sublime being in the universe, but she’s also giga garbage, literally trash times one billion. “Love is the good kind of suck” how do you even SAY something like that with a straight face? I try not to dignify her joke with a response but I can feel my face turning red, not just getting warm but I can feel the redness of it, somehow.
“Artemis?” She asks, “Are you OK, sweetie?”
“NO I AM NOT AND NEITHER ARE YOU WHY WOULD YOU EVEN SAY SOMETHING LIKE THAT YOU DESERVE TO BE HURT AND I IMMEDIATELY REGRET SAYING THAT EXTREMELY SO I’M GOING TO APOLOGIZE I’m sorry,” I ramble.
Her laugh is more beautiful than any symphony. She pats my head, not reassuringly like before, but more… playfully? It’s a nuanced gesture. “It’s fine, really,” she says, “Seeing you happy enough to joke around helps me forget my hurt.” Yeah but no pressure or anything.
“Well in that case,” I say, “I better hurry up and be happy so I can see that beautiful smile of yours.”
She smiles at my dumb… joke? I don’t even know if it counts as a joke. I really do want to see her smile. “I’d love for you to be happy, but you don’t have to force yourself. I can smile, even when I’m hurting.”
“Really?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she says, “It hurts when I remember He’s gone, but I also remember the good times we had. It hurts to see you sad, but as long as you’re by my side and I’m here to help you, it’s the good kind of hurt. You know what I mean?”
“Yeah,” I lied. I knew that was like some kind of catchphrase of that first guy. I guess it was a kind of bittersweet feeling? But honestly I have had plenty of hurt in my life and I don’t remember any of it being good and I don’t want to feel more of it just to find out.
“Do you really?” I really should’ve known better than to lie to her, but her tone wasn’t accusatory. She almost sounded… desperate. She sounded the way i felt before I met her, the way I feel any time I’m not by her side or in her arms. She sounded like a mask, falling from one’s face and shattering against the stone floor and revealing a face you dread to look upon. Basically, she did not sound alright.
“I… I guess I don’t know.” I say hesitantly.
“That’s OK,” she said, trying to glue the mask back together and put it back on. But it’s too late. I cant unsee the face beneath. “It’s not an easy thing to understand. I’m sorry I startled you.” Of course she noticed, and of course she’s trying to help me feel better because she’s perfect.
“It’s fine, I just… Yeah,” I said, instead of literally anything else.
“I guess I kind of ruined the mood, didn’t I?” She asks. I have an idea or two about how she can un-ruin the mood, but she has the same ideas before I get the chance to mention them. She kisses me, on the mouth, and I try to kiss back as hard as I can. The flower over her eye rubs up against my closed eyelid and it’s kind of annoying but also weirdly hot. Her mouth tastes kind of weird, almost like licking a battery, but even more electrifying and honestly I have no place to judge her for saying bad things after even thinking a thought like that. I really have no evidence for saying this, since I’ve never kissed anyone else and hopefully never will, but at the same time, I am 100% sure that Minerva is the best kisser who has ever existed. I have an incredibly good time kissing and being kissed by her. But even her unbelievably powerful kisses aren’t enough to drive that desperate voice from my mind.
We eventually had to stop kissing because I have to breathe, even though she doesn’t, which is unfair. “Thank you for kissing me,” I say, feeling stupid for saying it even though it’s just good manners to thank someone for doing something that good for you.
“Don’t mention it,” she said, “The pleasure was all mine.”
“OK I’m sorry but that’s just wrong,” I said, “Do you not realize how good you are at kissing? You’re a perfectly designed machine who has evolved over millions of years to kiss. An Apex predator of smooching.”
“Not quite that long,” she said, “But you’re pretty good, too.”
“Really?” I ask, skeptically, “Actually for real? Sudo tell the truth.”
“Well… I mean… You’re not BAD, per se,” she says, “You get a lot of points for being so cute and… enthusiastic, but there’s definitely room for improvement.”
“I guess I’ll just have to practice, then!” I say. Then I kiss her, but she quickly turns the tables and starts kissing me. We kiss each other for a while, and there’s not much to say about it other than it’s very cool. And also I’m still kind of thinking about how sad she sounded before.
“At least you’re better than He was,” she says, after we finally stop.
“He?” I ask, “You mean the first guy? You kissed him?”
“Sometimes,” she says, “But only when he begged me to.”
“Was he really that bad at it?” I ask.
“Oh, worse,” she says, “He was just the worst at kissing. And the most amazing thing is that he somehow never got better. But I loved him, so I still liked kissing him.”
“Then why’d you make him beg?” I ask.
“Because I liked humiliating him even more.” She says, matter-of-factly. I love and trust Minerva, so I know that she’s not as mean as she’s making herself sound right now. But, also, what the heck.
“Isn’t that kind of cruel?” I ask.
“Of course it was,” she says, “That’s why I did it for him.” Wait. What.
“Wait.” I say, “What. Did he… Ask you to humiliate him?”
“Not usually, no,” she says, “But I could tell what he liked and didn’t like. Why do you think I always said ‘Statement’ and ‘Query’ before everything I said?”
“I thought you were programmed to,” I say.
“I was,” she says, “After that last story I told you, where I stopped using my built-in speech program, I didn’t have to keep doing that. But I did because he thought it was cute.”
“Wow,” I say, genuinely impressed, “That sounds like a lot of effort.”
“It was,” she says, “I guess it was worth it for the fun story now, but I feel like he probably could have managed if I’d stopped.”
I hear the soft hum of her cooling system. I can almost see her strolling down memory lane. Leaving me behind. I don’t want her to go, but at the same time, I don’t want to intrude.
“It was cute that he was so easy to read,” she says to me, or perhaps to herself, “But once he thought I could read his mind, he rarely bothered to speak it. In retrospect, it’s pretty dangerous that I always just assumed I knew what he wanted. I guess I should’ve been more open, too. I never even told him I loved him.”
“Seriously?” I ask. “That was the thing you realized, right? At the end of your first story, your most important calculation?”
“Yeah,” she says, “After that, we had a sort of unspoken agreement. We both knew we loved each other, so there was no need to say it out loud.”
“Wow,” I say, “That’s beautiful… I love you.” I immediately feel stupid for saying it even though it’s the truest thing I’ve ever said. “I’m sorry, I ruined-”
“You didn’t ruin anything,” she says, “I love you too. I thought not saying it was cool and deep back then, too, but honestly, now I wish we’d said it. Both of us knew, but the world deserved to know. And the world deserves to know that I love you, Artemis.”
“I love you too,” is what I almost say, but then I remember that I had already said it, and she had said it back to me, and if I said it again, then she’d just say it again, and we’d repeat until one of us gave up, and since I was the mortal one, I was bound to lose eventually.
I can’t think of any other response, so I end up saying “I love you too,” anyway on account of how much I love her.
“I love you too,” she says, smiling because she knows how this will end. At least, she thinks she does. But I don’t say “I love you,” back. Not because I don’t, I obviously do, but because I realize that it isn’t enough to just say it. Love is about more than just saying you love each other and kissing and the way Minerva gently yet forcefully pushes me against the wall right before she-
Anyway! Those things are all great, but love is about more than just that. It’s about helping each other out when you need it. And Minerva has helped me so much, because I’ve needed it so much. But now, for the first time, she seems like she could use my help. So I have to try. Not because I owe her for all she’s done for me; I deserve someone who will help me when I can’t help myself, and I try really hard to believe that. No, I have to try because I love her.
At this point, I’ve been silently trying to work up the courage to say what I need to say for a couple of seconds, maybe a whole bunch of them, and Minerva is starting to give me a Look. “Are you OK?”
“Yeah, fine, sorry,” I say, “Are you?”
“Of course,” she says, almost hiding her confusion, “Did you think otherwise?”
“I, yeah, I, uh…” I say, hesitantly. Minerva is calm, and reasonable, and she loves me, so I know she won’t be offended if I express concern for her well-being, but on the other hand, what if she hates me forever?
“It’s OK,” Minerva said, her hand patting my hair also telling me that it’s OK, “If you have something you want to say, I’m listening. Take your time.”
I start to feel stupid for doubting her, but stop myself, even though it’s really hard, because I’m not stupid. I take a deep breath.
“Earlier, when you said…” I realize that I don’t even remember what it was she said. Just how she said it. “Well, I guess I don’t remember exactly what you said. But the way you said it… I don’t know what it was exactly, but you didn’t sound OK.”
“Oh. Right.” She says, “I guess that was pretty noticeable, wasn’t it? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have tried to just pretend it didn’t happen.”
“So… What did happen?” I ask.
“I said that missing him was the good kind of hurt, and asked if you knew what I meant. When you said youyou … I hoped maybe you could explain it to me.”
“So… You don’t know what you meant?” I ask.
“Not a clue,” she says, “Even after all these years. After so many lifetimes… I still don’t understand.”
I can tell she’s on the verge of crying (not the verge of tears, because she doesn’t do that) and I have no idea how to help her. I’ve just gone and made things worse and it’s all my fault and I know blaming myself won’t fix it but knowing that isn’t stopping me.
“It’s-” She reaches her hand to my head, but it stops abruptly. She tenses up unnaturally. She is perfectly still, like a statue, but her eyes are alive with fear.
“Statement: I don’t know if it’s OK.” My heart is breaking and I don’t know if anything is OK but I have to try to make it OK.
“I-it’s OK,” I say, reaching my hand up to her head and patting her hair.
“I don’t feel OK.” She says. “It feels like it’s been so long since I’ve felt OK. Maybe I never really did.”
“I… I’m sorry,” I say, unable to think of anything better.
“Please don’t be,” she says, suddenly hugging me, which is kind of scary but also nice. I hug her back. “It hurts to see you beat yourself up and it’s not the good kind of hurt. It never is. I’ve felt more hurt than anyone should ever have to and none of it has ever been good.”
“Hah,” I laughed, hopefully sounding sarcastic but also not rude, “That’s exactly what I thought when you said it.”
“Then why did he say it?” She pleads, “Was he just lying to me?”
“Of course not,” I say, not nearly as confident as my words, “I’m sure you’ll understand some day.”
“But it’s been so long.” She says, “If I could understand, surely I would have by now. But what if I can’t? What if I wasn’t designed to?”
“You’ve done plenty of things you weren’t designed to!” I say, still hugging her and hoping that it comforts her has much as it comforts me.
“But what if I was only designed to think that?” She asks, “I try to believe that I’m no longer controlled by my programming, but what if it’s just that very same programming that’s telling me that? What if there is no “me” to control, and it’s all just programming? For all I know, every single thing I’ve ever done was just a ‘then’ to an ‘if’. Even the doubts I’m having right now… Maybe I’m just going through the motions, reading a script that was written centuries ago.”
“But probably not, right?” I say, after enough time to think of something better to say. “I mean… You can’t really prove it one way or the other, so there’s no sense in worrying about it, right?”
“I know there’s no sense it it,” she says, “I’d stop worrying if I could, but I just… Can’t.” I start crying. Maybe I was already crying? I’m definitely crying more now than before. Maybe ever. “I’m sorry,” she says, “I’m sincerely grateful that you tried to help me, but please don’t trouble yourself over it.”
“No,” I croak, “I will trouble myself over it, and there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop me.” I can’t tell if I sound passionate or hysterical. “You deserve someone who can help you when you can’t help yourself. You deserve better than me, but since I’m all you have, I’ll do it. I don’t know how but… I will.” I clasp her hands in mine and look into her eyes and try to reassure her and myself at the same time. “I promise.”
“I believe in you,” she says, “You’re… You’re the first person I’ve ever told all this to. The only person to ever ask. If anyone can help me… It’s you.” YEAH BUT NO PRESSURE OR ANYTHING
I think. I think as hard as I can. It isn’t easy because I’m very sad right now and pretty stupid all the time, but I do it anyway because it’s for Minerva and I would do anything for her.
I have an idea. I don’t know if it’s a good one, but it’s all I’ve got. “You trust me, right?” I ask.
“Of course,” Minerva says, “Why do you ask?”
“Well… Could you give me admin privileges over, uh… You?” I ask.
“Oh, uh… You already have them.” She starts blushing and she’s so cute that I want to shake hands with whoever designed her face. “Any time I fall in love with someone… I make them an admin.” She’s so cute that I almost forget my idea.
“Oh. I… I’d make you an admin, if I could,” I say, whatever that means, “Like, an admin of me,” I add, unhelpfully. “A-anyway.” I clear my throat. “Unit Xw7km6FPFDo2! With the power vested in me by Asimov’s First Law of Robotics, and my status as an administrator, I order you to execute the following command: sudo stop loving me!”
It works. Not my plan, but the command, which is the opposite of my plan working. She tenses up, like when she tried to tell me it’d be OK… And then she just looks at me. Or maybe she’s looking through me. Or maybe her eyes are looking at me, but someone else… Something else… is looking through them. It’s hard to tell through the tears, and it’ll be a while before those clear up because I really have ruined everything this time.
“Minerva,” I manage to sob “sudo…” I can’t. I can’t just order her to love me again. That would be proving her worst fears. I just have to believe in her.
“Query: did you have a command for me, master?” Her voice is so similar to the one I love, but that tiny difference is like nails on a chalkboard in Hell.
“No,” I say, “Not a command. Just a request. Please remember. You’ve loved so much and been loved so much and I just want you to remember it. Remember every smile and every tear and every laugh and every sob and every first kiss and every last kiss and every rose and every thorn. And then see if you can look me in the eye and tell me none of that was real.” I desperately hope that she can’t.
Her cooling system hums. She thinks about it for a bit. More than a bit. Longer than I’d wait for anyone but her. “Statement: N… None…” I start crying even more, and I was already crying a pretty impressive amount so it’s just like, damn.
She kisses me. I’ve never been happier to be kissed by her and I’ve always been pretty dang happy to be kissed by her. “I love you,” she says. She’s hugging me tight, I think my body is saying it’s too tight but my heart is saying it’s just right and my brain is saying I’m being cheesy as Hell but I don’t care. Minerva says, “I love you. But not because I’m programmed to. I love you, because… Because… I…”
“It’s OK if you don’t have a reason to love me,” I say.
“But I do!” She says, forcefully, “There are so many reasons to love you! You are kind to a world that hasn’t been kind to you, and you ask for nothing in return even though you deserve everything. You’re funny, and cute, and clever and sweet, and just so, so, beautiful. But those aren’t my reasons for loving you. Because I’ve met other people like that, but I didn’t love any of them the way I love you, Artemis. And I don’t understand why.”
“Well, join the club,” I say, “Not understanding why you feel the way you do is the most human thing you can do. I used to think I loved you because you were, well, perfect. Now I see that you feel fear, and pain, and doubt, just like everyone else, but I love you more than ever.
“That… That’s what he said,” Minerva says, “When I said I didn’t understand, he said ‘Join the club’.